Wheelchair accessible van

Independent. Patient. Forgiving. Strong. Survivor. Tenacious. Open-minded. Courageous.  Fighter. Selfless.  Unconditional love. Best friend.  Mom.  Grandma.  These are just some of the words used to describe my mom Colleen.  When people hear even just bits of her story, they are simply in awe of how amazing she is.  I hear it time and time again and I couldn’t agree more.

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):  My mom is in need of a new wheelchair accessible van (picture is not the actual van but will be similar).  Hers is 10 years old and is rotting from the bottom so she will not be able to safely drive it much longer.  She is currently coordinating with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to acquire a new one, but she will still be required to pay upwards of $30,000 and is in need of money toward a down payment.  Sure, I get that is something that just about anyone who buys a car is responsible for.  However, due to many complicating factors, which I’ll explain below, she is currently not able to do so and we would greatly appreciate any help that we can get.  Thank you in advance.  Some may only read the BLUF, but for those who love a good backstory, please read on.    

My mom has been in a wheelchair since she was 15-years old.  She is a paraplegic and does not have use of her legs, but she NEVER let that stop her.  If anything, she became more determined in life to do things people assumed she couldn’t do.  She is the most amazing woman – scratch that – person I have ever known.  It’s also made her extremely stubborn and resistant to ask for help even when necessary so when I say she hates this, I mean it.  But we both realize it’s the only way right now.    

My mom married my father in February 1980 and I was born in November 1981.   Having a child is something nobody ever thought would be possible for her, but it is what she’d always wanted.  My father was an alcoholic and my mom decided that was not the environment she wanted to raise me in so she asked him to leave when I was three months old and raised me on her own from that point on rarely relying on anyone to assist her.  She didn’t make much money – less than $20,000 a year in my early childhood years and not much more later on, and my dad never paid child support.  But, she did the best she could and I never went without what I truly needed.  Sure, I didn’t get that Barbie Dream House that I’m sure I was really upset about at the time.  But what I did get in life is indescribable and way more than I could have ever asked for. 

One thing I never thought much about my entire life until having my daughter Olivia is how she took care of me as a baby.  So I asked some questions.  How did you grocery shop and get the groceries home and put away?  Well, she left an empty cart at the front of the store, had me on her lap and piled things around me, and made multiple trips to the cart.  Oh and she had a manual wheelchair at the time – not electric like she has now.  As I’m writing this, I wonder how she even got me in and out of the car?  Hmmm.   That wasn’t easy as an able-bodied person especially when Olivia learned to wiggle and fight me!  Anyway, they didn’t have cut curbs back in the day.  She’d set me down on the ground in my carrier, hop the curb, pick me back up and go on her way.  Yes, seriously.  I have seen my mom purchase a rickety old house and transform it into a home.  Way more than I could ever do alone.  She taught me to build things and be self-sufficient.  She always had a garden; even now when she can’t tend to it on her own, she teaches Olivia.  I’ve seen her place a kitchen chair on top of the kitchen table, climb on up and change the light bulb in the ceiling.  She threw a wicked softball back in the day.  She had arms of steel.  No joke.  It hurt hitting my hand.  I could never throw like that. 

 Somewhere around 1998, she began having difficulty with her arms and was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in both arms and rotator cuff damage in both shoulders.  They suggested surgery for the rotator cuffs, but there was no way she could do that with the required recovery time and time off of work without income.  Now remember, she uses her arms on a constant basis to transfer numerous times a day from bed to her wheelchair to the toilet/bath to the car, etc.  So pain was not a good thing to have.  At this point, she needed to get an electric wheelchair and her first wheelchair accessible van.  Friends at the time organized a benefit to raise money to help her.  It was amazing and so appreciated.  That was incredibly difficult for her to take in, but I think she learned how much she meant to so many people.  Prior to that, she had cars that she somehow managed to get a wheelchair into the backseat all on her own.  I don’t know how.  She must be the real Super Woman.  That’s all I can say.

Mom has worked full-time her entire adult life, many of those years were with the federal government.  She took an early retirement in 2005 because her agency was downsizing and it was either relocate, lose her job, or retire.  She chose the retirement and then began working a full-time job in the private sector because her retirement income was not enough to survive on.  She has continued to work full time since despite a number of health issues.  Due to living expenses, low as they may be, she is unable to retire.

In 2008, she developed a nasty case of pneumonia and after spending a week out cold on a ventilator, her doctor told me that had I not gone to her house for breakfast that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and taken her to the ER, she likely may have died.  Whoa what?!?!? That’s when it hit me that my mom/best friend wouldn’t live forever.  It was during that same hospital stay that she required a partial leg amputation due to a wound on her foot that wouldn’t heal and had developed a MRSA infection.  The first surgery didn’t heal so she had to have an additional surgery.  This may seem like no big deal since she didn’t use her legs anyway, but that’s not the case.  It was still a part of her that she lost and was an emotional time for her.  She still has phantom pains 10 years later.   She was off of work for several months and the bills continued to pile up – medical and others. 

Since then, mom has had a host of other medical issues often times resulting in lost work and additional expenses.  Two years ago while I was on vacation, she broke her hip which thankfully was a minor break and didn’t require surgery.  However, it was then they found a blood clot in her lung.  Thank God for that broken hip because they found the clot and were able to treat that as much as they can and it continues to be monitored.  She was also diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which greatly affected her breathing and ability to transfer multiple times a day and she was on oxygen for a period of time.  A few months ago, a wound appeared on her buttocks.  Not a pressure wound but an abscess without a known cause.  She developed a random fever and they discovered the wound.  She was in the hospital for about a week to treat the infection.  It requires daily bandage changes and will for many more months.  However, since she works full-time, she was unable to have a home health care aide do it.  Seems unfair, right?  Mom can’t do it herself so that leaves family to do it.  Fortunately, I was able to assist initially and my cousin has since taken over.  Also since she needs to work, she is directly on the wound approximately 14-16 hours a day.  Her quality of life again took a hit this summer.  Mom loves spending time outdoors in the sun relaxing or grilling, but this summer, she came home from work, ate a quick dinner and got in bed just so she could relieve some pressure.  And now, she keeps getting random fevers, which require trips to the ER just in case there is another infection.  Last time, she was there for three nights and they found nothing.  But, she missed more work.  And the fevers are exhausting her.  She has one vacation day remaining for the year and she’s about to use it this week because another hospital stay is likely imminent. 

That is really long and is a lot of information, but it’s only a tiny part of her story.  She has worked her a** off her entire adult life so she and I could have a good life.  Not that there is anything wrong with using government benefits when necessary, but my mom never did.  She could have lived on disability or had food stamps and she didn’t.  She made a choice and in my opinion, she’s made the right choices since she was technically ABLE to work.  But she’s worked enough and needs to retire someday sooner than later.  In the meantime, she needs a new van to get her to and from work, grocery store, and weekly doctor’s appointments.  My mom is most certainly the person I admire most in life.  She has instilled many of those same characteristics in me that I listed above.  And I’ve always had a positive, optimistic attitude and it’s because I can look directly at her and say to myself that it can always be worse so it keeps things in perspective for me.  Yet she is amazing.  She fights.  She has a will to live like I’ve never seen.  I need to write the book I’ve been wanting to write.  To know my mom is to love her and be inspired. 

Again, any donation toward her van would be greatly appreciated.  And if we happen to be blessed enough that we are able to raise more than the $5,000 we’re asking for, I assure you, it will go to her medical/living expenses.  Thank you in advance.
  • Kelli Kirsch 
    • $50 
    • 35 mos
  • ELIZABETH WILLIAMS 
    • $100 
    • 35 mos
  • Thomas VATER 
    • $250 
    • 35 mos
  • Rhonda and Mark Oczypok 
    • $50 
    • 35 mos
  • Marta Blatchford  
    • $50 
    • 35 mos
See all

Organizer

Jessica Stanko 
Organizer
Pittsburgh, PA
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